Film Review – ‘Godzilla: King of the Monsters’ (2019)

Designed as the ultimate big screen monster mash but massively falling short of its early promise, ‘Godzilla: King of the Monsters’ is an underwhelming instalment that’s full of filler but light on genuine thrills.

As a sequel of sorts to 2014’s lukewarm Godzilla, King of the Monsters does make some improvements on its predecessor. There’s definitely no lack of ambition in co-writer/director Michael Dougherty’s eagerly awaited follow up, even if much of it does fall flat. Arriving with the scale of a WWF monster smack down, the film is overflowing with creatures fighting to the death and levelling entire cities in the process. While it tries to top the previous Godzilla’s action sequences, King of the Monsters arguably suffers from creature overload, with a few too many inexplicable scenes.

Picking up a few years after the previous film, Monsters introduces us to the Russell family, all bearing individual emotional scars after surviving Godzilla’s last chaotic foray on earth. There’s the brilliant but often-ignored Madison (Stranger Things’s Millie Bobby Brown), who lives with her bereaved scientist mother Emma (Up in the Air’s Vera Farmiga), who is still grieving the son she lost in Godzilla’s 2014 attack. But when mother and daughter are kidnapped from a remote location by a man seeking to unearth monsters lying dormant around the world (Game of Thrones’s Charles Dance), Madison’s estranged father (Bloodline’s Kyle Chandler) must risk everything to save them.

With such a high profile and impressive cast on hand (Sally Hawkins, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Ziyi Zhang, Ken Watanabe and Bradley Whitford all feature) it’s a shame that Monsters gave them so little to work with. There is some attempt made to make us care about the emotional plight of the Russell family, but it all ultimately serves a plot that feels underdeveloped and somewhat nonsensical. Part of this is because Monsters seems unclear about what sort of film it wants to be. At times a cautionary tale about environmental disaster and climate change, at others a half-baked satire, it offers flashes of insight but fails to find a consistent tone.

Of it’s cast, only Millie Bobby Brown seems as though she’s having any real fun, and her youthful energy and brilliance is a refreshing contrast to the squabbling, short-sighted adults she is constantly forced to endure. While she’s on screen there’s glimmers of Monsters’ potential as a throwback to the excitement of the first Jurassic Park film, so it bodes well that she’s billed to return for next year’s Godzilla vs. Kong.

It’s in the final act that the film finds its feet, as it builds to a titanic battle that finally places Godzilla front and centre. It’s a shame that so much of the film is preoccupied with other creatures that we never feel firmly invested in, and a sign that even with a seemingly limitless budget sometimes less is more.

Ultimately King of the Monsters feels less like an essential chapter in the Godzilla saga and more of a warm up lap before the truly epic clash of the titans drops next year. For die hard fans there are enough scenes of mayhem and nods to the wider franchise to keep them happy, but it appears the real challenge to Godzilla’s reign as ‘king of the monsters’ is still to come.

Alex Straker | ★★ 1/2

Sci-Fi, Action | USA, 2019 | 12A | 29th May 2019 (UK) | Warner Bros Pictures | Dir.Michael Dougherty |Millie Bobby Brown, Vera Farmiga, Kyle Chandler, Charles Dance, Sally Hawkins, Ken Watanabe